Help me medicate my cat without trauma
August 11, 2016 9:25 AM   Subscribe

My aging kitty (as seen here) now gets multiple medications daily, most of which I can sprinkle over a bit of tuna slurry, and she's happy to eat. But she has an occasional pill that ruins tuna for her, and it has also ruined pill pockets for her, so now I'm at a loss for how to give it to her without the traditional approach of poking it down her throat. This is horrible for both of us. Please share any tips you might have for other tricks to make this easy and painless!
posted by spindrifter to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, pretty girl! A couple of initial thoughts:

1) Are there any treats she absolutely loves? If you can get through a few rounds of pairing a pill with a treat, some cats will decide the treat is worth the pill. (My sweet dumb baby actually demands his pills now, and then the treat after it.) This may not be feasible depending on number of pills and whether her weight is a concern, of course. Also, fair warning, if you have other cats they may ALSO come to associate the sound of a pill bottle with treats, and then everyone wants treats just because one cat had pills. (Or because you had pills. My own daily pill, and the occasional Excedrin dosage, now bring all the cats to the kitchen wanting freeze-dried chicken.)

2) If you would be willing to throw money at the problem, you might ask your vet or a compounding pharmacy about alternate formulations. I'm particularly thinking about a transdermal gel - my experience has been that cats don't get too fussed about having some gel rubbed into the skin of their ear, vs. having a pill or liquid shoved down their throat.
posted by Stacey at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would like to know, too. With my old lady kitty, trying to give meds was ruining our relationship, so I don't give her meds anymore. I tried many things--including a compounding pharmacy that made treat-like pill, chewy things. Perhaps you can try that.
posted by feste at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

When my mother had to give her cat antibiotics recently, the vet gave her a pill gun, similar to this one. You just poke it into the back of the cat's mouth and squeeze, and the pill basically falls down their throat before the cat even knows what happened. I used it myself a time or two and it was by far the easiest and least traumatic administration of oral medication to a cat I have ever executed. Much less troublesome for both human and kitty than trying to force-feed them with your finger. Literally takes about two seconds and the cat just looks at you with an "I'm not certain what just happened, but I'm pretty sure it was undignified" look and wanders off.

Ask your vet?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

Are there any other foods she likes? My elderly kitty loves cheese, so I can hide a small pill (or a bigger one broken up/crushed) into some cheese and she'll eat it. Something soft, like cream cheese or Laughing Cow works best, but even a little piece of cheddar works, too.
posted by jhope71 at 9:39 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

My cat stopped being tricked by pill pockets - she must have bitten too hard and gotten a taste of the pill. What I've been doing now is taking a little bit of the pill pocket and mushing it around the pill enough to coat the pill entirely, then doing the quick 'poke it down', then giving her a crunchy treat reward afterwards. It's been working really well. The pill-taste never reaches her tongue, so she doesn't fight the process, and watching her eat the treat I can be sure the pill made it down.
posted by oh yeah! at 9:41 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK don't prejudge me for being a horrible person, because I spend a lot of time caring very much about what our dogs eat and preparing fresh foods for them and buying the very best organic food/kibble that serves as the base of their meals. But when I absolutely positively have to give the medication that they won't take any other way, then putting the pill in a tiny amount of vanilla ice cream makes it go down easily every single time. Given that the formulation of ice cream is basically fat milk and sugar in and easily digested form I suspect that most cats will like it as much as my dogs do. And thank you to the forgotten poster here on ask meta-filter who brought this to my attention years ago. It has made my life so much better and I mentally thank you at least three times every day when I use this one simple technique.
posted by seasparrow at 9:41 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have gotten an unpillable cat to eat pills when I wrap it in raw bacon.
posted by jeather at 9:57 AM on August 11, 2016

If you haven't leaned on the vet a little, do check to be sure there's absolutely no way to get a better format, maybe via a compounding pharmacy if necessary. (I did this with tramadol, which seriously traumatized my dog so badly I couldn't even get her to take her Ice Cream or Meatball Zyrtec for a while, and they were like "nobody has invented a technology to make that one not terrible, do you want gabapentin capsules instead?")

If you use a pill gun, it helps to load the pill and then put a dab of butter on it, so it doesn't stick along the way.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 AM on August 11, 2016

Compounding is totally worth it.
posted by florencetnoa at 10:00 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

See if you can get it in a liquid form. Liquid is incredibly easier to give to a cat than pills.
posted by cnc at 10:02 AM on August 11, 2016

Seconding the transdermal form of the drug, if available. This has made medication time at our house a mild annoyance (for us and the cats) versus a wild, desperate battle.
posted by whistle pig at 10:10 AM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

If the compounding or liquid formats or pill gun doesn't solve the problem, you might try using a portion of a pill pocket to make a super thin coating over the offending pill and then put that down kitty's throat, followed by super tasty treat. This worked way better than pill alone or pill in pill pocket. My otherwise skittish cat is conditioned now to come over when I rattle the pill bottles because I always feed him immediately after pills. (He also now understands the word "pills," but that's a side benefit.)
posted by *s at 10:10 AM on August 11, 2016

Get a 5 cc syringe and crush the pill and dissolve it in about 1 cc of water. Suck it into the syringe and stick the syring into the SIDE of her mouth and squirt it in. Follow imediatley with another syring with 1 or 2 cc of water to take the bad taste away. It's easiest to do when placing the cat between your legs facing forwards. If she starts to fight you then just wrap a towel loosely around her neck and front legs so that she can't get to you. You now need three hands to do this but it can be worked out. The wet should be able to give you a couple of syringes.
posted by Ferrari328 at 11:00 AM on August 11, 2016

Yeah, those pill guns are great. If she turns her nose up at it just coat the outside with a bit of tuna juice or rub some deli turkey on it or whatever the equivalent thing that your kitty LOVES. Let her smell and lick it a bit then gently push it in the mouth and push the pill down.
posted by bowmaniac at 11:02 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a 5 cc syringe and crush the pill and dissolve it in about 1 cc of water.

Consult your vet before doing this as it might change the rate of absorption and/or effectiveness of the drug.
posted by bowmaniac at 11:04 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thirding liquid compounding if you can get it; much easier to position the syringe and just squirt the stuff down their throat. Alternately, and I haven't been able to get this for a lot of meds but I know it's out there for some: compounding into a transdermal solution. Rub it on their ears and you're good to go.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:29 AM on August 11, 2016

Is it that she won't eat food with certain meds, or that she just won't eat those foods anymore?

Not sure if this helps, but the one pill that no animal will eat, no matter how well hidden, is Ultram/Tramadol. It's apparently revolting. If that's one that your kitty is taking, maybe you only have to hide/force that one, and give the rest normally?
posted by radioamy at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2016

But when I absolutely positively have to give the medication that they won't take any other way, then putting the pill in a tiny amount of vanilla ice cream makes it go down easily every single time. Given that the formulation of ice cream is basically fat milk and sugar in and easily digested form I suspect that most cats will like it as much as my dogs do.

One of the most surprising things about getting a dog is how strong his sweet tooth is. I had kind of just figured that domesticated animals didn't like sweets because none of my three my cats cared for anything sweetened at all. Like, if you put down a plate of breakfast leftovers (not that anyone would do that in his household, nosiree) he will definitely lick up the maple syrup before going for the little bits of bacon.

That being said, my cats will attempt to steal licks of any and all dairy products (regardless of sweetness) so maybe skip the sugar (my aging cat is diabetic so I'm paranoid of unnecessary sugar in the diet of all furbabies now) and go with heavy whipping cream or plain yogurt?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:00 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had three cats who all needed meds toward the end of their lives. They were all damned near unpillable after a while. What worked, in order of best options first:

1) transdermal gel rubbed into ear
2) liquid suspension
3) pill gun

Drawback: only certain meds can be made into non-pill forms. But it doesn't hurt to ask. Sometimes it's more expensive but I found it well worth it for ease if medicating. The transdermal gel in particular transformed the process into NBD. Even our young pet sitter could easily do it when we were away.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2016

I will nth the pill gun. Even my father, notoriously incompetent at medicating cats, was able to pill their oldest cat with a pill gun. Transdermal gels also worked well in my household (note: either you or your vet will need to clean out the cat's ears periodically, as that stuff will eventually gunk things up).
posted by thomas j wise at 1:01 PM on August 11, 2016

I've gone the 'crush it and mix it with water and syringe it in' route, but even that is a pretty involved process. The evolution of this method is basically to crush the pill, add it to a drop of honey, and then dab the honey-pill mix onto the cat's upper lip area. Your cat will give you a look of betrayal and then proceed to lick her lip clean. Check with your vet first, and probably find a different syrupy thing if your cat is diabetic, but otherwise, go forth and dab.
posted by and her eyes were wild. at 2:15 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

When our cat started rejecting pills in pill pockets, we were able to get them in him by rolling the pill pocket in a little bit of buttermilk powder.
posted by amarynth at 3:00 PM on August 11, 2016

I recommend a pill gun as well. This is the one I use. Since my cat needs two different medications, and the tablets don't easily fit in the gun, I cut up the pills and put them in a size 3 gel cap, which fits perfectly in the pill gun I linked.

There's also a matter of technique. I try to jam the pill as far back in my cat's throat as it will go, and I do it as fast as possible. You might think this would cause the cat to gag, but mine doesn't. Speed is key; the longer the process takes, the more agitated the cat will get. Sometimes if I'm in really good form, I can catch her while she's lying down, and she won't even get up after I giver her her medication.

If your cat really hates pills, it might be a sign that she has gum disease. If that's the case, anything you do involving her mouth will cause her a lot of pain.
posted by shponglespore at 3:42 PM on August 11, 2016

Do any/all of the meds come in an injectable formulation? I would prefer to give a shot every day of the week over pilling a cat that does not want to be pilled.
posted by crankylex at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had to learn to give one of my cats shots because he was so impossible to pill, even with a pill gun. Giving a cat a shot is so much easier than forcing a pill into him! You just pull up the loose skin between the shoulder blades and inject into the space under the skin. The cat didn't mind it nearly as much as being pilled. Being pilled made him feel that he was about to choke to death, whereas getting a shot was just a momentary inconvenience. Ask your vet if any of your cat's meds are suitable for injection. If so, your vet can give you a quick lesson in how to do it. It's a lot easier than you'd think.

There was one med that could not be injected because it would burn while going in, the vet said. After much mutual suffering we found that and her eyes were wild's method worked. You can try butter, peanut butter, or honey. Honey was what worked best for us. The little dab on the upper lip got licked off every time. No other method ever managed to get a pill into him.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 5:42 PM on August 11, 2016

I can't pill my cats either. My cat is on a daily pill in the form of a chicken flavored soft chew. I've also used cream cheese. If you cant pay for the compounding or soft chew, maybe crush the pill, and roll the pill powder in cream cheese or sour cream or baby food. There are also treats made of freeze dried chicken - maybe you can use that as an incentive. Good luck. I know how stressful it is to have to do this. I tried the transdermal option once but it didn't work and ended up giving up because it was too traumatizing for the kitties.
posted by mokeydraws at 7:11 PM on August 11, 2016

I had a cat who developed epilepsy, and I have to give him a pill 2x/day that couldn't be delivered in any other form than pill. I'm just posting to encourage you to try the method you call "poking it down the throat." After a very short time we got this down and he was very accepting of it. HEre was my MO:

Kneel down on the floor and get behind the cat. Gather the cat into the crook of your legs by holding her chest and snugging her in.
With non-dominant hand, gently take hold of the cat's head on either side of the jaw, with your hand coming over the cat's face from above, and tilt her head up. The reflex is to open the mouth.
With your other hand, take the pill and place it at the back of her tongue - not the front where the flavor will be repulsive.
Then, with your other hand, shut the cat's mouth and stroke her throat. Her reflex will be to swallow.

We got so this took two seconds and was not a miserable experience for anyone. In addition to developing a smooth and regular routine for it, I would say the key is also to be really calm and assuring. If your movements are firm, calm, gentle, and assured, the cat won't freak out. If she starts struggling or fighting, let her go and try again once she's calmed down. I found that when I was nervous, fumbly, or felt guilty, my movements would be anxious-making and set her off. Doing it in a very calm, matter-of-fact way was fine. It might take a few practices but I would say that investing the time - especially if pilling is going to be regular thing - really paid off, as opposed to trying all manner of subterfuge that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Good luck!
posted by Miko at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2016

I don't know if this will work for a cat's more delicate eating style, but one really effective method with dogs is to hide the pill in one of a series of identical treats given in quick succession (for example, a piece of hot dog, then another piece of hot dog, then a pill-hiding piece of hot dog, then another regular piece of hot dog). Seems like by the time the pill comes around, they're a lot less careful/suspicious and likely to just wolf if down.
posted by R a c h e l at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2016

If her pill cannot be compounded (nthing the recommendations for this, it's so much easier), and she doesn't buy hiding it in food, you can burrito wrap her. Probably not something you want to do daily but it shouldn't make her hate you if it happens occasionally.

I had kind of just figured that domesticated animals didn't like sweets because none of my three my cats cared for anything sweetened at all.

Cats are unable to taste sweets.
posted by jamaro at 1:11 AM on August 13, 2016

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